Necky Llamas

One distinguishing feature of the llama is its long, woolly neck, which measures 2/3 the length of its back. When standing erect, the llama’s neck and mane make the animal look athletic and regal.

Dalai Llama

But when the neck is sheared, the llama looks, well, rather amusing. Under its gorgeous mane is a shockingly thin neck.

Dalai Llama’s Long, Skinny Neck is Revealed!

Such long, skinny necks are very useful. Llamas use it as a tool to steal leaves, to swing threateningly at predators, to wrestle with other llamas, and to provide a counterbalance when rising from a seated or lying position. Even so, rising is an awkward movement for the llama, which has four knees, but only the front ones bend.

Llamas sit and rise awkwardly, because their back legs are joined at the hip!

Try standing from a crouched position without bending your knees! Can’t do it? Try swinging your neck to provide some momentum. That works out beautifully for the llama.

The most remarkable fact about the llama’s neck is how enough blood can travel such a great distance from the heart all the way to the head. Llamas accomplish this with ease through specially designed elliptical (oval) blood cells. Most other mammals, including humans, have round blood cells, which are smaller than the llama’s. Elliptical cells carry extra blood–and just the right amount to compensate for the length that blood must travel in the amazing llama. These oval shaped cells are also very stable.

In comparison, the world’s longest-necked animal—the giraffe—has a completely different system for blood circulation from its heart to its head. With a neck length of six feet, the giraffe is designed with an unusually large heart, weighing 25 pounds and measuring nearly two-feet long. This large heart generates almost double the blood pressure of a human heart at 150-beats per minute. Additionally, seven one-way valves in the jugular veins prevent back flow when the giraffe lowers its head, while blood vessels in the animal’s lower legs maintain a balancing pressure.

So giraffes and llamas both have long necks and compensating blood-pressure systems. But are they related? After all, they both chew their cud, and they are both classified in the Order Artiodactlya.

However, the llama’s taxonomy Family is called Camelidae—with the alpaca, guanaco, vicuna, and camel (a distant relative) in their Family. The giraffe’s Family is called Giraffidae, and its relatives are extinct, except for the okapi, which looks more like a zebra than a giraffe.

The okapi is the giraffe’s only relative.

More importantly, the llama is fully domesticated, while the giraffe is a wild animal. They are NOT relatives, but it is understandable that many people think they are.

Happy Trails from Mama Llama!

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